According to a recent survey of Scottish SME business owners, one in three businesses could be caught out by new food waste laws which came into force this year.
The research was commissioned by Biffa, which provides a food waste collection service to thousands of Scotland’s small and medium-sized businesses, in order to understand the impact that the tightening of the food waste segregation legislation is having on SMEs.
Since the laws were introduced on January 1st, Scotland’s 12,000 food businesses – from cafes to takeaways to hotels and hospitality businesses – have faced a stringent tightening of the requirements to segregate food waste produced in one week. If they produce 5kg or more of food waste per week they must now segregate it, a significant reduction from the previous requirement to segregate food waste produced weighing 50kg or more.
Scottish SMEs could be putting their reputation and cash flow at risk if they do not comply, with potential pitfalls ranging from fixed penalty notices of £300 from SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) right up to £10,000 fines in the magistrates court for repeated non-conformance, a key point that a third of surveyed businesses were not aware of.
The results also demonstrate the raft of changes that SMEs in the food industry have had to implement to accommodate the new requirements.
These include displaying new signage for staff (59%), reducing the amount of food waste produced (47%), providing training to staff (46%), allocating larger containers for food waste (30%) and appointing a new waste provider (24 per cent). A significant 16 per cent of SMEs surveyed had not made any changes to their business.
Barry Crews, regional general manager at Biffa, said: “Scotland is leading the way in dealing with food waste and indeed, ‘Zero Waste Scotland’ legislation has been in place since 1st January 2014, to require food businesses producing 50kg or more of food waste a week to have a separate food waste recycling stream.
“Businesses have been coping well with this but widening the food segregation requirement to more of the SME business community across Scotland may lead to a rise in breaches and potential for financial penalties. This could create another burden on SMEs, who sometimes don’t have the capacity or finances to ensure they are compliant with every single legal requirement.
“SEPA currently has the legal power to levy fixed penalty notices of £300 for failure to segregate food waste and they are expected to start using these powers shortly.
“Our survey demonstrates that a third are unaware of the potential financial implications of a breach, something which could severely cripple a small business, with one in four admitting they couldn’t afford to pay a financial penalty. Food businesses are advised to ensure they are fully compliant now, before financial penalties can be issued.”
The survey also revealed a lack of awareness of what happens to food waste that’s unfit for human consumption, after it is collected. More than half of SMEs surveyed (53%) did not know where their food waste was taken, however, an overwhelming 88% said they would be more likely to segregate and recycle food waste once they knew it could be processed into renewable energy through anaerobic digestion.
Dealing effectively with food waste is a big issue in Scotland and one that the whole country is tackling. Zero Waste Scotland is also encouraging Scottish households to reduce the 630,000 tonnes of food and drink thrown away every year. Food waste represents nearly a third of household waste in Scotland.
Dr Kiara Zennaro, head of biogas at the Renewable Energy Association, which represents British companies involved in anaerobic digestion and promotes the use of renewable energy in the UK, added: “Scotland is clearly leading the way in tackling food waste and diverting it from landfill through prevention and bio-waste treatments such as anaerobic digestion. Other countries such as England should follow its example.
“Millions of tonnes of food wastes are still being landfilled every year in the UK, with substantial costs and environmental implications. Anaerobic digestion offers a clear solution to this by capturing GHG emissions from food wastes and turning it into low carbon base-load, flexible energy, green gas which can help decarbonising heat and transport and a valuable bio fertiliser which can replace fossil based mineral fertilisers, improve crop yields and help maintaining our soils’ fertility.”